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Despite overwhelming support for the program from judges, voters and former governors, Republicans in the House have stepped in line with the Governor and their colleagues in the Senate and proposed in their budget, released today (at page 12), to eliminate public funding for judicial campaigns. 

Someone is really holding their feet to the fire on this one.

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A new survey by a Republican polling firm finds that legislators may want to think twice before scrapping North Carolina’s embattled judicial public financing program. Here’s more on the findings from North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections:

‘The poll, conducted by a firm that has worked for Sen. Jesse Helms and many leading conservatives, shows that 67 percent of Republican women especially like the fact that the program has increased female representation on the state’s top courts – and by a 57 percent majority, they are less likely to vote for lawmakers who end the public financing option and allow money to play a greater role in judicial elections. Overall, a super-majority (68 percent) of voters said they would hold lawmakers accountable at the polls for ending judicial public financing.

Sixty-one percent of voters are particularly worried about the potential for corruption if the program is eliminated and say the program “should remain in place because even the hint of bribery is too much in our judicial system.”

poll released last month by the NC Center for Voter Education indicates the program has broad support, with backing by 67 percent of Republican voters and 65 percent of independents.

The new poll by the Republican-leaning Tarrance Group was commissioned by NC Voters for Clean Elections and delved into more specifics on voters’ feelings about the program. Leaders from both parties came together in 2004 to implement the Public Campaign Fund, in order to relieve judicial candidates from the big-money chase. Contrary to the pessimism about government programs, supporters say this one has clearly worked.

A majority of the NC Supreme Court justices are now women for the first time in history – and all have used the program to win election. Overall, 80 percent of appellate court candidates have used the program, including all four African-Americans appellate judges elected since 2004 and eight of the ten Republicans who won contested elections.

Despite years of success and bipartisan support, the program is under attack. The state Senate eliminates the program in its budget bill passed recently, and a similar provision was proposed by the governor’s budget. Read More

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There will be two great opportunities today to hear from one of the nation’s experts on the state of the judiciary — and particularly the right’s intentional and successful effort to gain control of it.

Who: Michael Avery, author of “The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals.”  Click here to read about the book.

Where/When: Offices of the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh (Click here for directions and parking informationTODAY at 3:00 pm — The author will also be speaking at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill tonight at 7:00 pm. Read More

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In case you missed it in today’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, lawyer Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University authored a powerful plea for state lawmakers to keep our state’s excellent public fundingsystem for judicial candidates:

“Voters and judges in North Carolina agree that justice should not be for sale. Unfortunately, the legislature and governor look poised to eliminate a successful program that helps judicial candidates say no to special interest money. Read More

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A professor, an economist and a judge sat in a room, crunched the numbers and reached this conclusion: More often than not, judges (in this case federal judges)  vote along party lines.

So say Lee Epstein, a professor at the University of Southern California, William M. Landes, an economist at the University of Chicago, and Richard A. Posner, a federal appeals court judge in Chicago, in their new book, The Behavior of Federal Judges, previewed in today’s New York Times by Adam Liptak

“Justices appointed by Republican presidents vote more conservatively on average than justices appointed by Democratic ones, with the difference being most pronounced in civil rights cases,” they write in the book.

A recent decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejecting Michigan’s constitutional ban of affirmative action policies bears out that party allegiance, Liptak notes.  “Every one of the eight judges in the majority was nominated by a Democratic president,” he said. “Every one of the seven judges in dissent was nominated by a Republican president.”

As Liptak adds:

Many judges hate it when news reports note this sort of thing, saying it undermines public trust in the courts by painting them as political actors rather than how they like to see themselves — as disinterested guardians of neutral legal principles.

But there is a lot of evidence that the party of the president who appointed a judge is a significant guide to how that judge will vote on politically charged issues like affirmative action.

True, federal judges are appointed, and perhaps that’s the news peg here, as they’ve long been perceived as above the fray of electoral posturing and politicking.

Is it any different in places where judges are elected?  Nobody’s run the numbers yet,  but one thing’s likely.  Judges who campaign are well-versed in the partisan give-and-take.